Federer, the five-time U.S. Open champ, won 35 of 52 net approaches in his 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 fourth-round victory over No. 17 Roberto Bautista Agut on Tuesday night inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“Coming to net requires a lot of agility and explosivity,” said Federer, who has won 22 of his last 26 matches. “And I’m happy to have that back.”
Federer said he plans to continue that style in the quarterfinals on Thursday night when he faces No. 20 Gael Monfils, who looked highly impressive in dispatching No. 7 Grigor “Baby Fed” Dimitrov, 7-5, 7-6, 7-5 during a steamy afternoon match on Ashe.
Federer is 7-2 all-time against Monfils (3-2 on hardcourts), but the Frenchman appears much more focused than ever before, perhaps in part because he’s playing here without a coach.
“I think I can speak on behalf of so many players: We love watching him play,” Federer said of Monfils. “It’s nice seeing him do well again. He’s going to raise in the rankings now, and maybe that’s exactly the steppingstones he needs to make it back in the top 10.”
Monfils has always been known as a sublimely talented player capable of brilliant moments, but not always the most consistent or dependable fellow.
Both John and Patrick McEnroe commented on Monfils’ newfound focus at this event while broadcasting his match on ESPN.
“We haven’t seen a lot of the theatrics, the looniness at times,” John cracked.
“He’s methodical,” Patrick added. “Methodical and Monfils have not gone hand in hand.”
Monfils had his moments to be sure. At one point in the second set, he basically tanked a game with Dimitrov serving at 40-0. Monfils stood right behind the service line and encouraged Dimitrov to serve the ball to get the game over with.
“I just get a bit pissed,” Monfils said. “I finish. Then I was sorry for Grigor, because I was in front, and he was like, Just serve. Because obviously I give you the game, so it’s okay. Move it.”
Still, Monfils rebounded from a 4-6 deficit in the second-set tiebreak when he could have gone South and let Dimitrov back in the match. Monfils says he’s “happy” and “relaxed” and in a good place mentally despite not having a coach.
“For sure it’s better to have a coach,” he said. “I won’t lie to you. It’s better to have someone to help you. I need it, you know. But as I say all the time, it’s not easy to [find] someone.”
Monfils said he had reached out to “somebody here” about coaching him “but they are not ready to travel that much.”
“That’s always trouble, you know,” he added. “I think is few good coaches that I really want to work with, but they’re able to travel and just part time, and I don’t think I need that.”
As for the opportunity to play the 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer with a spot in the semifinals on the line, Monfils said’s excited for the challenge.
“Well, he’s definitely the legend of the tennis, you know,” he said.. “I think right now he’s the greatest tennis player we ever had, and for me it’s always challenging to play against him. It’s always great, because no matter what, you know, I will say to my children, you know, I played against him. Even I kill him, you know.”
Whether he actually kills him remains to be seen.
Federer won the recent Cincinnati hardcourt event, beating Monfils in three sets en route.
With his attacking style, Federer figures to continue to approach the net whenever possible against the Frenchman.
“This is the best I’ve seen him move in years,” John McEnroe said of Federer.
The draw is also shaping up nicely for Federer.
The tournament began with no Rafael Nadal, his major nemesis and a man with a 23-10 career record against Federer.
Two of the other members of the “Big Four” — Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — will square off in a quarterfinal Thursday night on the other side of the draw. And No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka is also in that half of the draw.
No. 4 David Ferrer and No. 7 Dimitrov are now out of Federer’s half, making his path to a potential final somewhat clearer.